I'm a big fan of shoulder season travel...but there is nothing I love more than the beach off season! Off season can mean a baking Florida beach in August or a cozy weekend in Maine in April, but either way, go when when nobody else wants to be there and you will benefit! Here are 6 reasons to visit the beach off season.
The parking lots are empty, and sometimes free!
Even if you are traveling just for a day trip, you'll have no trouble finding parking, and sometimes parking regulations and fees are relaxed in during the off season. While you might not be able to sit out in your bathing suit or have to bring your sun umbrella on a southern beach in the summer, you can enjoy the beach without the grief and expense of parking.
You splurge on accommodations you couldn't afford in season
Major tourist beaches have lots of hotel rooms. Rooms rented at top dollar during the tourist season are often deeply discounted off season in order to fill them. While some properties close off season, many owners would rather stay open and try to meet basic expenses during the quiet season. This means we've been able to splurge on properties with great water front locations that we can't afford in the high season. Also, during recent stays in Maine, we stayed at two places that were perfect off season, but in season we might have found them too loud; one inn was on a busy intersection with traffic day and night in the summer and the other inn hosts THE hot spot pub that operates late into the night in summer. Be aware that many places we've stayed off season have had limited "resort" services, with fewer of their full amenities available. Our advice is to find a place with a cozy fireplace in cold weather locals or a nice shady balcony or porch in the hot summer weather.
The beaches are empty.
During a late fall visit to St Martin, we had plenty of company, but we didn't have mobs on the beach. There were plenty of empty chairs and no need to get to the beach at dawn to get one! Just beware, some beaches do have seasons of rip currents or biting flies or fleas. This is easy to research online (you probably won't find it on the hotel's website!) Sometimes these natural phenomena are easily thwarted with sprays or avoiding beaches certain times of the day. Know before you go!
You don't have to wait for a table
Empty sidewalks mean no lines, no waiting at the best restaurants in town. Beware, it also means far fewer will be open in the off season. But many times we've scored a walk in table at places that in the height of the season are booked for weeks at a time! This is also the time of year when chef's are experimenting with new dishes for the next season's menu, or offering lingering "tasting" menus they can't offer during the busy season.
The weather itself becomes an attraction
I remember hiking near Sand Beach in Acadia National Park one summer, it was the height of tourist season, and the day we hiked the park was swaddled in a famous Maine fog. Several families visiting were bitterly disappointed about the lack of views from all of the scenic turnouts. I remember thinking that, having visited the park in every season, that sometimes the most memorable visits were skiing by the shore on sparkling fresh snow, or watching the melon sized rocks being tossed out of the ocean by post hurricane waves. Even on days when the weather isn't what's advertised in the travel brochures, there can often fascinating weather to see at the beach at any time of year.
You can get to know the locals
At the height of the season at any popular beach destination your waiter might be from around the corner or from Croatia! In either case they are probably too busy for a lot of chit chat! In the off season, the local folks who live there year round (often the owners themselves) are helping guests at hotels, restaurants and shops. It's quieter and they have more time to interact. As a person who interviews folks for a travel website, I find it much easier to ask a few questions and learn more about the place when I can talk to the locals and they are relaxed and have time to tell me all about the wonderful beach community they get to enjoy all year round!!